You can stop and smell the roses at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival this year … and then take a swig of blueberry wine. For the first time, Disney World is giving food and beverage quality time in the spotlight at the theme park's annual event.
Although the concept sounds similar to the park's big event in the fall, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, there are differences.
"It's not Food & Wine. It's the Flower & Garden Festival. So we just took a different approach," says Michael Jenner, event content development manager at Epcot.
There are fewer marketplaces around World Showcase during Flower & Garden, and they have built-in gardens that represent the menu items sold there.
"Where we have blueberry wine, we have blueberry plants growing," Jenner says.
There's also a backyard cookout feel to the festival, as evidenced by a large cooker at the park's American Adventure. Epcot will smoke pork and brisket there.
Epcot executive chef Jens Dahlmann "is always about the sense of smell. He always wants that freshness happening and those aromas," Jenner says. "Before you even get to the marketplace, your appetite is whetted."
Some menu items have a twist to them. The Dole Whip, a popular pineapple snack at Magic Kingdom, is served with spice rum. ("It's a Disney concoction. I don't know of anyone else doing it," Jenner says.)
One marketplace offers watermelon salad.
"When you think of watermelon, you think of a chunk of watermelon or it's in your fruit salad. But this is great baby arugula salad with feta cheese, balsamic reduction, pickled red onions and watermelon in it," Jenner says. "Instead of having it for dessert or a snack, it's actually for your first course."
How it's growing
The concept of adding food to the Flower & Garden lineup has been around for years, says Eric Darden, horticulture manager for the festival.
"We noticed that if you make a garden an edible landscape, traffic in that garden goes way up," he says.
At one marketplace, taro root — used to make poi — is grown. In Florida, it has a different story.
"It's actually elephant ear, which we grow as an ornamental," Darden says. "All 12 of the locations have a story, something like that." Storyboards talk about the food and each station sports two large planter boxes.
"Many of the things that are served in that pavilion will be grown in the boxes, which can be sort of a challenge in Florida," Darden says.
The topiaries at Epcot's entrance form a cookout scene with Mickey Mouse at the grill, Donald Duck playing badminton with Daisy and other characters.
Two fresh gardens have tie-ins to Disney films. Topiaries of one-eyed Sully and Mike, backed by monstrous flower towers, push to "Monsters University," coming in June. A large garden touts "Oz the Great and Powerful," which opens today. The Oz area has a large playground and seats shaded by the canvas of a landed hot-air balloon.
"We're a storytelling company, so we're even using the tent to tell the story of the film," Darden says.
Oz also sports a tunnel (for a tornado effect) and a floral yellow-brick road.